St Piran's Church remains, St Piran's Cross, and their surrounding enclosure


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1012506

Date first listed: 22-Mar-1932

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Jun-1992


Ordnance survey map of St Piran's Church remains, St Piran's Cross, and their surrounding enclosure
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Perranzabuloe

National Grid Reference: SW 77208 56468


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The remains at this site demonstrate the continued use of an early Christian foundation throughout the Middle Ages and down to the early 19th century. During this extended period, the site remained in ecclesiastical use although the nature of this activity changed through time. The earliest religious activity on the site is indicated by the establishment there of a `lann'. The place-name element `lann' means `enclosure', but it was used from an early period to denote specifically religious enclosures. This place-name occurs scattered throughout the South-West peninsula and Wales indicating that it was related primarily to the Celtic church which dominated these areas in the early Post-Roman period. Associated finds and structures show that at least some `lanns' were established on pre-Christian sites. They comprise curvilinear and sub-rectangular enclosures bounding a sacred Christian area and containing a chapel, cemetery and associated housing for their community. Lanns vary considerably in size and status, some appearing as small local cemeteries with a single attendant priest, others developing a parochial status to minister to the religious needs of the nearby secular community, while some grew into Celtic monastic sites. They commonly occur in sheltered valley bottoms, estuaries and near the coast, and though appearing throughout Cornwall, their densest concentration equates with the more fertile areas in the south of the county. As the earliest of religious foundations, they are particularly important for the study of the introduction and development of Christianity to western Britain, and provide a major source of evidence for its social organisation and its relationship to contemporary secular communities. The `lann' site at St Piran's is important as a rare example of such a site where remains of this early religious foundation can be demonstrated to survive. This importance is enhanced by the close proximity and association of the site, as indicated by the shared dedication to St Piran, with the nearby Oratory, the latter being known to be one of the earliest Christian foundations in Cornwall. Crosses and memorial stones of various types, some marking burials, are a common feature of such early religious enclosures. Standing crosses, like the example at this site, may have served a number of functions, as memorial stones, as markers of sites considered especially sacred, as preaching stations. This example survives in good condition and is a member of a small number of similar crosses in Cornwall which together indicate the existence there of an independent tradition in the SW peninsula of the creation and use of such monuments. By the later 11th century, many Cornish lanns had survived the demise of Celtic religious communities to become the sites of parish churches and associated graveyards, that is, buildings used for Christian worship by a secular community, containing a font for Christian initiation and associated with a graveyard for burial in consecrated land. Surviving medieval structures are commonly later than the original foundation. Parish churches occur throughout England, with variations in their distribution corresponding to differences in population density and wealth during their two main periods of foundation. Details of construction materials, form, size, layout and embellishment vary considerably between regions. Although they are one of a range of surviving monuments from the medieval and post-medieval periods, their particular importance derives from their social standing as focal points for many aspects of communal and individual expression, religious, artistic and technological, with considerable implications relevant to the study of social organisation and lay customs, rituals and beliefs. Throughout England around 18000 parish churches are recorded, many of which are still in use. St Piran's however is an example of a much smaller group of parish churches now abandoned and surviving only as ruins. This abandonment means that the site was not subjected to the extensive `renovation' and `rebuilding' works which occurred during the 19th century at many parish churches, these works frequently severely damaging remains of earlier periods of the churches' history. Hence St Piran's will retain considerable remains of its early history and development. Together these various features make the St Piran's complex of considerable importance for studies of the establishment and development of Christianity in Cornwall during the Early Christian and medieval periods in the South-West.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of the medieval St Piran's church - the former parish church of Perranzabuloe, an early medieval wheel-head cross standing 17m south of the church, and a sub-circular Christian enclosure surrounding the church and cross. The monument is situated near the centre of an extensive area of wind-blown sand dunes, Penhale Sands, filling most of Perran Bay. The walls of the medieval church survive as mortared slate rubble masonry to a maximum height of 3m and 1m thick, with small traces of wall plaster adhering to some parts of the wall's inner face. The surviving visible walls comprise the N, E and S walls of the chancel and chancel-aisle to its S; the E, S and W walls of a short south transept; parts of the N wall of the nave, and the S wall of the tower incorporating its junctions with the tower W wall and with the W end of the nave and nave-aisle. These walls give the total length of the nave and chancel as 26m internally, and the total width at the chancel and chancel-aisle as 8.5m internally. The interior of the tower extends for a further 5m W of the nave. The bases of window splays survive in the chancel N and E walls, and an acute, chamfered-arched recess for a piscina (a stone basin with a drain used for disposal of water used at Mass) occurs near the E end of the chancel-aisle S wall, the deposits within the church raising its interior ground level to the base of the piscina arch. A partial excavation of the interior of the church revealed a grave against the chancel E wall. The visible masonry of the church is immediately surrounded externally by large mounds of sand, with further irregular sand and rubble deposits present at a lower level within the walls. These sand deposits mask most of the exposed masonry's external face and it is considered from records of limited excavations at the site that they also cover much of the church's remaining ground plan not visible on the surface, together with other associated features, including graves, both within and outside the church walls. St Piran's Cross is an erect, granite high cross, 2.4m high, situated 17m S of the church's chancel-aisle. It has a circular head, 0.6m diameter, whose cross-arms were achieved by cutting ovoid perforations below the top and to each side of the centre. A lower perforation was incompletely worked from each face. The centre of the head has a small circular boss on each face. The head is integral with the rectangular-section shaft, 0.5m by 0.4m at the base and slightly tapered to a small collar at each side below the head. No certain decoration survives on the badly weathered and lichen-encrusted shaft surface. No separate cross-base is visible though a base recorded by 19th century observers probably occurs below the present sand surface level. The church and cross are located near the centre of a sub-circular enclosure, partly engulfed by a sand-dune in its NE quarter. It is defined by a bank, 0.5m high and 2m wide, extending from 27m NW of the church tower, to a maximum 53m N of the nave, then curving to 44m E of the chancel and terminating 37m S of the chancel-aisle's SE corner. This break in the bank is marked to its immediate S by two low irregular platforms separated by a shallow gully, considered to mark structures associated with the main S entrance to the enclosure. Beyond these, the course of the bank to the SW and W of the church is continued by the curving upper edge of a scarp in the dunes. Subdivision is evident within the enclosure, with a straight bank running NNW for 18m from the enclosure-bank's SE sector, and a series of small incomplete banks in the enclosed area W of the church. The curvilinear ecclesiastical enclosure and the earliest recorded name for the site, Lanpiran (Domesday Book, 1086), denote an early Christian foundation. It is situated 0.35km ENE from another early Christian site, St Piran's Oratory, whose functions may have been replaced by this monument following an early engulfment by the shifting sand dunes of the area. The cross has been identified with a boundary marker, called `Cristen-mael', in a charter of A.D.960. By 1086, the Domesday Book reference describes the monument as a Celtic monastery. Although later reduced to parish church status, its shrine of St Piran remained a focus for pilgrimage. The visible stone church remains are typical of a 12th-13th century cruciform church with a south aisle and tower added in the 15th century. Problems with encroaching wind-blown sand are first recorded in 1281, and petitions to move the church to a safer location appear in 1704. A late 18th century painting shows the monument with its intact church, engulfed to the level of its window sills, together with the cross and a timber-framed, possibly jettied, building in the position of the entrance platforms to the enclosure. In 1804, the church fabric was extensively dismantled to provide material for the new Perranzabuloe parish church built 4.5km inland at Lambourne. The remaining church walls became totally buried by blown sand during the 19th century. Much of the ground plan was cleared of sand, but not excavated to the former floor levels, in 1917-1919. In 1964, part of the tower foundations were revealed and limited excavations took place in the chancel interior. The information sign and its posts, the M.O.D. Training Area warning signs and their posts, and the modern heap of stones around the base of St Piran's Cross are excluded from the scheduling, but the land beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15009

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Dexter, T F G, The Three Churches of Perranzabuloe, (1923)
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Padel, O J, Cornish Place-Names, (1988)
Todd, M, The South-West to A.D. 1000, (1987)
Todd, M, The South-West to A.D. 1000, (1987)
Tomlin, E W F, In Search of St Piran, (1982)
Preston-Jones, A, Rose, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Medieval Cornwall, , Vol. 25, (1986)
Thomas, C, 'Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age Sculpture and its Context' in Ninth Century Sculpture in Cornwall: a note, , Vol. 49, (1978)
Transcribed notes from Willmot, Rev P B, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Perranzabuloe Second Church, , Vol. 4, (1965)
Warner, R, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Parochial Checklist of Antiquities: 2. Perranzabuloe, , Vol. 2, (1963)
AM 107 for SM: CO 175, St Piran's Cross, near St Piran's Church,
AM 107 for SM: CO 556, Ruins of St Piran's Church,
Cornwall SMR entry for No. SW 75 NE/4,

End of official listing